Francesco Albani's The Baptism of Christ, when Jesus became one with God according to Adoptionism

Adoptionism, sometimes called dynamic monarchianism, is a minority Christian belief that Jesus was adopted as God's son (Son of God) at his baptism. According to Epiphanius's account of the Ebionites,[1] the group believed that Jesus was chosen because of his sinless devotion to the will of God.

Adoptionism was declared heresy at the end of the 2nd century and was rejected by the First Council of Nicaea, which held to the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, identifying Jesus as eternally begotten of God.[2]

Some scholars see Adoptionist concepts in the Gospel of Mark and in the writings of the Apostle Paul. According to this view, though Mark has Jesus as the Son of God, occurring at the strategic points of 1:1 ("The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God", but not in all versions, see Mark 1) and 15:39 ("Surely this man was the Son of God!"), but the Virgin Birth of Jesus has not been developed.[3] [4] By the time the Gospels of Luke and Matthew were written, Jesus is portrayed as being the Son of God from the time of birth, and finally the Gospel of John portrays the Son as existing "in the beginning". [5]



Early Primary Writings

In The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture, popular author and text critic Bart D. Ehrman argues that the Adoptionist Theology may date back almost to the time of Jesus and his view is shared by many other scholars[citation needed]. The first leader of the Church was James the Just who succeeded his brother Jesus of Nazareth. [6] They were located in and about Jerusalem, perhaps in the Cenacle, and proclaimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. These early Jewish Christians were thought to have been called Nazarenes. The term Nazarene was first applied to Jesus.[7] and later to the Jewish Sect that believed Jesus was the Messiah.[8] It is close to an historical certainty that Matthew belonged to this group.[9] Some believe that the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews or the Gospel of the Apostles [10][11] [12] [13][14] was an early account of the life and teachings of Jesus, written by a person named Matthew.[15] According to the Church Fathers, he was the same person as the Apostle Matthew. No copies exist: what is known about this book is from quotes, including by that of the church leader Papias ca. 125. As recorded in Epiphanius's account, when Jesus is baptized it states, "Jesus came up from the water, Heaven was opened, and He saw the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove and enter into Him. And a voice from Heaven said, ‘You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’ And again, ‘Today I have begotten You.’ Immediately a great light shone around the place." [16][17][18]

Due to recorded predictions of the destruction of the temple, the Gospel of Mark is believed by many modern-critical scholars to have been composed around or shortly after the fall of Jerusalem, and near universal, scholarly consensus holds that it was the first written of the four canonical gospels.[19][20][21][22][22][23] [24] [25] [26] [27] The phrase "Son of God" is not present in some early manuscripts at Mk 1:1.[28] Ehrman uses this omission to support the notion that the title "Son of God" is not used of Jesus until his baptism, and that Mark reflects an adoptionist view. The words, "Today I have begotten you," are omitted from the canonical Gospel of Mark, however, and it is therefore generally believed to have less adoptionist tendencies than the Gospel of the Hebrews.[5]

Paul's writings do not mention a Virgin birth of Christ, and some contend that Paul had never heard of it[who?]. Paul wrote that Jesus was "born of a woman, born under the law" and "as to his human nature was a descendant of David" in the Epistle to the Galatians and the Epistle to the Romans. The Epistle to the Hebrews states [29] that God said, "You are my son. Today I have begotten you," a phrase that shows adoptionist tendencies. It is also almost a direct quote from the second Psalm. [30] [31]

Later Secondary Documents

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke were written several years after Paul's letters. [32] The authors composed their gospels based on earlier Christian documents such as the Q Gospel and the Gospel of Mark.[33][34]

In the 2nd century, adoptionism was one of two competing doctrines about the nature of Jesus Christ, the other (perhaps endorsed in the Gospel of John) being that he pre-existed as some sort of divine concept, agency, or spirit (the Logos of God).[35]

Historically, there were three waves of Adoptionist speculation if we exclude the hypothetical beliefs of the primitive church that cannot be determined with certainty. The first, which dates from the 2nd century, differs significantly from the subsequent two (dating respectively from the 8th and the 12th century), which follow the definition of the dogma of the Trinity and Chalcedonian Christology.

Adoptionism and Christology

Adoptionism is one of two main forms of monarchianism (the other is modalism, which regards "Father" and "Son" as two aspects of the same subject). Adoptionism (also known as dynamic monarchianism) denies the pre-existence of Christ, and although it explicitly affirms his deity, many classical trinitarians claim that the doctrine implicitly denies it. Under Adoptionism Jesus is currently divine and has been since his adoption, although he is not equal to the Father.[36]

Adoptionism was one position in a long series of Christian disagreements about the precise nature of Christ (see Christology) in the developing dogma of the Trinity, an attempt to explain the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth, both as man and (now) God, and God the Father while identifying as monotheistic. It differs significantly from the doctrine of the Trinity that was later affirmed by the ecumenical councils.

Second century: ante-Nicene Christology

The first known exponent of Adoptionism in the 2nd century is Theodotus of Byzantium. He taught[37] that Jesus was a man born of a virgin according to the Council of Jerusalem, that he lived like other men, and was most pious; but that at his baptism in the Jordan the Christ came down upon the man Jesus in the likeness of a dove. Therefore wonders (dynameis) were not wrought in him until the Spirit (which Theodotus called Christ) came down and was manifested in Him.[original research?] The belief was declared heretical by Pope Victor I.

The 2nd-century work Shepherd of Hermas also taught that Jesus was a virtuous man filled with the Holy Spirit and adopted as the Son.[38][original research?] While the Shepherd of Hermas was popular and sometimes bound with the canonical scriptures, it didn't retain canonical status, if it ever had it.

In the 3rd century, Paul of Samosata, Patriarch of Antioch, promoted adoptionism. He said Jesus had been a man who kept himself sinless and achieved union with God. His views, however, did not neatly fit in either of the two main forms of Monarchianism.[citation needed]

Medieval and Modern Adoptionism

Spanish Adoptionism

Spanish Adoptionism was a theological position which was articulated in Umayyad and Christian-held regions of the Iberian peninsula in the 8th and 9th centuries. The issue seems to have begun with the claim of archbishop Elipandus of Toledo that – in respect to his human nature – Christ was adoptive Son of God. Another leading advocate of this Christology was Felix of Urgel. In Spain, Adoptionism was opposed by Beatus of Liebana, and in the Carolingian territories, the Adoptionist position was condemned by Pope Hadrian I, Alcuin of York, Agobard, and officially in Carolingian territory by the Council of Frankfurt (794).

Despite the shared name of "Adoptionism" the Spanish Adoptionist Christology appears to have differed sharply from the Adoptionism of early Christianity. Spanish advocates predicated the term adoptivus of Christ only in respect to his humanity; once the divine Son "emptied himself" of divinity and "took the form of a servant" (Philippians 2:7), Christ's human nature was "adopted" as divine.[39]

Historically, many scholars have followed the Adoptionists' Carolingian opponents in labeling Spanish Adoptionism as a minor revival of “Nestorian” Christology.[40] John C. Cavadini has challenged this notion by attempting to take the Spanish Christology in its own Spanish/North African context in his important study, The Last Christology of the West: Adoptionism in Spain and Gaul, 785-820.[41]

12th century and later: Neo-adoptionism

A third wave was the revived form ("Neo-Adoptionism") of Peter Abelard in the 12th century. Later, various modified and qualified adoptionist tenets emerged from some theologians in the 14th century. Duns Scotus (1300) and Durandus of Saint-Pourçain (1320) admit the term Filius adoptivus in a qualified sense. In more recent times the Jesuit Gabriel Vásquez, and the Lutheran divines Georgius Calixtus and Johann Ernst Immanuel Walch, have defended adoptionism as essentially orthodox.

19th century, Psilanthropism

A form of adoptionism surfaced in Unitarianism during the 18th as the virgin birth was increasingly denied by Unitarians[citation needed]. In the 19th century the term Psilanthropism, was applied by such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge who so called his own view that Jesus was the son of Joseph.[42])

Parallel Development Elsewhere

In his novel Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut makes reference to a fictional work called "The Gospel from Outer Space," which is exactly like the canonical gospels, but it involves an Adoptionist scene during the Crucifixion. It appears Vonnegut was unaware that this was already an existing theology, and that he came up with it independently.


  1. ^ "They too accept Matthew's gospel, and like the followers of Cerinthus and Merinthus, they use it alone. They call it the Gospel of the Hebrews, for in truth Matthew alone in the New Testament expounded and declared the Gospel in Hebrew using Hebrew script. After saying many things, this Gospel continues: “After the people were baptized, Jesus also came and was baptized by John. And as Jesus came up from the water, Heaven was opened, and He saw the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove and enter into Him. And a voice from Heaven said, ‘You are my beloved Son; with You I am well pleased.’ And again, ‘Today I have begotten You.’ “Immediately a great light shone around the place; and John, seeing it, said to Him, ‘Who are you, Lord? And again a voice from Heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Then John, falling down before Him, said, ‘I beseech You, Lord, baptize me!’ But He forbade him saying, ‘Let it be so; for thus it is fitting that all things be fulfilled.’” Epiphanius, Panarion 30:3 & 30:13
  2. ^ "Jesus was either regarded as the man whom God had chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion, (Adoptian Christology); or Jesus was regarded as a heavenly spiritual being (the highest after God) who took flesh, and again returned to heaven after the completion of his work on earth (pneumatic Christology)." Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma [1]
  3. ^ Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament (New York : United Bible Societies, 1994). Mark 1:1.
  4. ^ Ben Witherington III, What Have They Done With Jesus? (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2006), p. 7.
  5. ^ a b Ehrman, Bart D., The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. p.74-55.
  6. ^ Jerome, Illustrious Men 3
  7. ^ Gospel of Matthew 2:23
  8. ^ F.L. Cross and E.A. Livingston, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press, (1988-92) p. 597&722.
  9. ^ Both the Gospels (pro-Christian and seen by some as anti-Judaism) and the early Talmud (part of Judaism and seen by some as anti-Christian) affirm this to be true. Bernhard Pick The Talmud: What It Is and What It Knows of Jesus and His Followers, BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009 116
  10. ^ Eusebius Church History 3:39 .
  11. ^ Origen explains, "The very first account to be written was by Matthew, once a tax collector, but later an apostle of Jesus Christ. Matthew published it for the converts from Judaism and composed it in Hebrew letters." Eusebius Church History, 6:25 Eusebius adds insight by explaining that the apostles "were led to write only under the pressure of necessity. Matthew, who had first preached the Gospel in Hebrew, when on the point of going to other nations, committed the gospel to writing in his native language. Therefore he supplied the written word to make up for the lack of his own presence to those from whom he was sent." Eusebius Church History, 3:24
  12. ^ Irenaeus gives us further insight into the date and circumstances of this gospel by explaining, "Matthew also issued a written Gospel of the Hebrews in their own language while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome and laying the foundations of the Church." Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:1
  13. ^ Matthew, the tax collector and later an Apostle, composed his gospel near Jerusalem for Hebrew Christians. It was then translated into Greek but the Greek copy was lost. The Hebrew original was preserved at the Library of Caesarea, which Pamphilus diligently gathered. The Nazarenes transcribed a copy for Jerome which he used in his work. "Jerome, On Illustrious Men 3">Jerome, On Illustrious Men 3 [2]
  14. ^ Matthew's gospel was called the Gospel of the Hebrews or sometimes the Gospel of the Apostles, and was written in the Chaldee and Syriac language but in Hebrew script. It is thought to have been used by the Nazarene communities. Jerome, Against Pelagius 3:2 [3]
  15. ^ Bernhard Pick, The Talmud: What It Is and What It Knows of Jesus and His Followers, Kessinger Publishing, 2006 pp. 122, 125-129
  16. ^ Epiphanius, Panarion 30:13
  17. ^ James R. Edwards, The Hebrew Gospel & the Development of the Synoptic Tradition, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2009, pp. 1-376
  18. ^ Pierson Parker A Basis for the Gospel According to the Hebrews Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 59, No. 4 (Dec., 1940), pp. 471.
  19. ^ Crossan, John Dominic (1991). The historical Jesus: the life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant. San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco. ISBN 0-06-061629-6. 
  20. ^ Eisenman, Robert H. (1998). James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Penguin Books. p. 56. ISBN 0-14-025773-X. 
  21. ^ John Robinson, Redating the New Testament, 1976, Wipf & Stock Publishers: ISBN 1-57910-527-0. p.352
  22. ^ a b Brown, Raymond E. (1997). Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Anchor Bible. pp. 164. ISBN 0-385-24767-2. 
  23. ^ Millard, A. R. (2000). Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus. NYU Press. p. 56. ISBN 0-8147-5637-9. "C.P. Thiede drew on papyrology, statistics and forensic microscopy to try to prove O'Callaghan's case, yet without convincing the majority of leading specialists." 
  24. ^ R. Helms, Who Wrote the Gospels?, Millennium Press 1997 p. 8
  25. ^ Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:1
  26. ^ G.A. Williamson, Papias, quoted in Eusebius, Penguin Books, 1965 p. 103
  27. ^ Bernd Kollmann, Joseph Barnabas, Liturgical Press, 2004, p. 30
  28. ^ translation note in the NIV at Mark 1:1: "Some manuscripts do not have the Son of God." as well as many other places, see Bruce Metzger's Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament for details.
  29. ^
  30. ^ William Christie, Discourses on the Divine Unity Publisher Eaton by Stower, 1810 p.113
  31. ^ Ramacharaka, Mystic Christianity, Publisher Cosimo, Inc., 2006 p.21
  32. ^ Dating, Early Christian Writings
  33. ^ Gospel of Matthew, Early Christian Writings
  34. ^ Gospel of Luke, Early Christian Writings
  35. ^ "Jesus was either regarded as the man whom God hath chosen, in whom the Deity or the Spirit of God dwelt, and who, after being tested, was adopted by God and invested with dominion, (Adoptian Christology); or Jesus was regarded as a heavenly spiritual being (the highest after God) who took flesh, and again returned to heaven after the completion of his work on earth (pneumatic Christology)." Adolf von Harnack, History of Dogma [4]
  36. ^ John 14:28
  37. ^ Hippolytus of Rome, Philosophumena, VII, xxxv.
  38. ^ "The Holy Pre-existent Spirit. Which created the whole creation, God made to dwell in flesh that he desired. This flesh, therefore, in which the Holy Spirit dwelt, was subject unto the Spirit, walking honorably in holiness and purity, without in any way defiling the Spirit. When then it had lived honorably in chastity, and had labored with the Spirit, and had cooperated with it in everything, behaving itself boldly and bravely, he chose it as a partner with the Holy Spirit; for the career of this flesh pleased [the Lord], seeing that, as possessing the Holy Spirit, it was not defiled upon the earth. He therefore took the son as adviser and the glorious angels also, that this flesh too, having served the Spirit unblamably, might have some place of sojourn, and might not seem to have lost the reward for its service; for all flesh, which is found undefiled and unspotted, wherein the Holy Spirit dwelt, shall receive a reward." [5]
  39. ^ James Ginther, Westminster Handbook to Medieval Theology, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 3.
  40. ^ For an example of this characterization, see Adolph Harnack, ‘’History of Dogma’’, vol. 5, trans. Neil Buchanan, (New York: Dover, 1961), 280.
  41. ^ John C. Cavadini, ‘’The Last Christology of the West: Adoptionism in Spain and Gaul, 785-820’’, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), 4-5.
  42. ^ Cyclopædia of Biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical literature, Volume 2 By John McClintock, James Strong

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Adoptionism — • The theory that the man Jesus at some point in time became the Son of God only by adoption. Strictly speaking, refers to an eighth century Spanish heresy, but the term is also used to cover similar beliefs Catholic Encyclopedia. Kevin Knight.… …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Adoptionism — ▪ Christian heresy       either of two Christian heresies: one developed in the 2nd and 3rd centuries and is also known as Dynamic Monarchianism (see Monarchianism); the other began in the 8th century in Spain and was concerned with the teaching… …   Universalium

  • adoptionism/adoptianism —  ♦ (ENG adoptionism/adoptianism)  (от лат. adoptare принимать)    взгляд на Иисуса Христа как на человека, к рый был принят или избран Богом, возвысившим его до уровня Сына Божьего или одной из ипостасей Божественной Троицы …   Вестминстерский словарь теологических терминов

  • adoptionism — or adoptianism noun Usage: often capitalized Date: 1874 the doctrine that Jesus of Nazareth became the Son of God by adoption • adoptionist noun, often capitalized …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • adoptionism — noun A form of Christian essentially maintaining that Jesus is divine only in the sense that God the Father adopted him, either at Jesus birth, or at his death, as opposed to the orthodox understanding of the nature of the Trinity …   Wiktionary

  • adoptionism — A theory about the Person of Christ associated with the heretic Nestorius (d. 451 CE) that Jesus was a man gifted with divine powers. It was a view held by the Ebionites and it has sometimes been suggested that the quotation of Ps. 2:7 and… …   Dictionary of the Bible

  • ADOPTIONISM —    a CHRISTIAN HERESY which argued that the man JESUS became God by divine adoption when at the BAPTISM of JESUS, GOD declared Thou art my beloved Son, Mark 1:11. Although the view originated in the EARLY CHURCH, it took on particular importance… …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • adoptionism — belief that Christ was the adopted and not natural son of God Ecclesiastical Terms Philosophical Isms …   Phrontistery dictionary

  • Adoptionism —    The heretical belief that Jesus Christ is the adopted rather than the begotten Son of God …   Who’s Who in Christianity

  • Adoptionism —    See Alcuin of York of York …   Encyclopedia of Barbarian Europe

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